In the previous lessons I explained
five major truths that I believe are foundational for a correct understanding of ultimate reality: the
rationale for believing in God (Propensity Principle), the attributes of God (all-loving and just), God’s requirement
for salvation (GRFS, the kerygma), the need for lifelong saving faith in God (perseverance), and the way people interact
with God’s Holy Spirit (spiritual dynamics). We have considered how we become renewed individually
(during the stage of salvation between conversion and glorification in heaven), now let us consider the corporate aspect of
Christianity or church fellowship.
Peter professed faith that Jesus was “the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God”, Jesus
told him he was blessed (saved) and that “on this rock I will build my church.” (MT 16:16-18) This
rock (faith in Jesus as Christ) is the stone prophesied by Isaiah 28:16: “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation.” (Cf. EPH 2:20 & 1PT 2:6.) The
Greek word for churches used in the NT is ekklesia, meaning gatherings or fellowships. The
Church is also called Christ’s body (EPH 1:22-23). It consists of everyone who has saving
faith in God as revealed (by general revelation or a proto-Gospel), but overtly of souls who have heard God’s
NT Gospel and believe in Jesus as Lord/Christ (EPH 3:6, RM 10:13). These Believers are sanctified (1CR
6:11) or saints (RM 8:27), which means they are saved sinners, who are being perfected (PHP 3:12-14) or becoming
new and improved versions of themselves during the second stage of salvation. All saints/Believers belong
to one worldwide spiritual body (EPH 4:4) or catholic church (CL 1:18&24) and are servants/ministers/priests/muslims
of God (RV 1:6, 1PT 2:4). (The last term was added by Islamic culture some 600 years after the NT terms were
written and then canonized.)
A person who realizes
that God loves him/her as His child (EPH 5:1) should feel a tremendous sense of freedom (GL 5:1). He/she
should feel free to learn without fear of being condemned for making mistakes (MT 11:29), because God forgives.
God allows us to be tempted, not in order to trick us into sinning, but in order to help us to grow stronger spiritually
(JM 1:2&13). Freedom to learn means that no human being can presume to be an infallible dictator and
no organization, whether religious or secular/political, can require conformity (MT 23:8-11). Christians
are free to fellowship with any person and group that affirms the kerygma. It is impossible truly to
fellowship with anyone whose faith is immoral, atheistic and antichristian, because they are incompatibly opposite (2CR 6:14-16),
like the repelling poles of two magnets when one tries to push them together. Although they may begin side
by side as apparent truthseekers, those who choose to allow the possibility of God (the supernatural/ metaphysical dimension)
will wind up oceans apart from those who arbitrarily/ axiomatically choose to disallow the divine dimension, like two drops
of rain that fall on opposite sides of the continental divide.
person who says that one must love God and do this act or belong to that group has perverted GRFS. We
should not add to or subtract from God’s Word (RV 22:18-19). New “revelations” must
harmonize with previous truths. Communion/ fellowship should be offered to all who accept Jesus as
Christ and Lord (2CR 4:5, 1CR 11:28). God’s will is for all humanity to be one spiritual and loving
family through Christ. The barriers between sexes, races and social classes erected by pride and hatred
are exposed as irrelevant and evil (GL 3:28). Likewise, divisions (including closed communion rites)
according to religion and aggression in the name of God are wrong (1CR 1:10, 3:3-4). Thus, the main political
need if the world had godly governments would be consensus concerning how people may migrate and share the land or other resources
provided by God in an equitable way. (Someone needs to develop a "just migration theory", just as Thomas
Aquinas did a "just war theory". I suggest it include a provision for stabilizing the world's population,
since resources are not infinite.)
ideally, the only division in the Church was and would be geographical, for the purpose of worshipping and fellowshipping
as a group of a practical size within a reasonable distance. Unfortunately, however, people have a sinful
tendency to associate only with those who are like them in social status or belief regarding style of worship.
Believers need to overcome this inertia toward division on the basis of social class or didachaic issues
with the intention or decision to unite on the basis of kerygmatic faith in the NT God and His requirement for salvation
and fellowship. Yet, despite the prayer of Jesus (JN 17:20-23) and urging of Paul (EPH 4:1-3) for essential
unity, disagreements among Believers (1CR 3:3-6) sometimes have rebuilt the “dividing wall of hostility” (EPH
2:14, GN 16:12) that Christ died to remove. Thankfully, some “wood, hay or straw” (1CR 3:12) in the wall
is removed occasionally, such as when the Roman Catholic Vatican II Council of 1965 accepted Protestants as fellow Christians
and cancelled the Inquisition.
constitute "straw walls" in current politics, including abortion, homosexuality and racial prejudice.
Other divisive topics confined to current religious circles include inspiration, miracles and hell. These and other
controversial issues are discussed in Lesson 15, but I will share my "nutshell" solutions for these six as
examples of how to arrive at the best possible unity/compromise, beyond which Christians must agree to disagree until some
new knowledge becomes available. Regarding abortion, my insight is that we should define a human life's
beginning in the same way we scientifically decide life has ended or died: by the detection or absence of sentience
(cortical brain activity), which normally occurs by the third month of fetal development. Regarding homosexuality,
my view is that until the cause becomes known it is charitable to assume it may be genetic, and thus the focus of
concern should be to find a cure while allowing civil unions rather than to change the biblical definition of marriage (MT
19:4-6). Regarding racial prejudice, my understanding is that the Bible nowhere refers to humans in terms of
race, and so we should speak only of the human race. Regarding biblical inspiration, I find Paul's definition
in 2TM 3:15-17 to indicate that God's Word includes any scripture that is "useful for teaching about salvation and
righteousness" or spiritual growth, including OT writings as interpreted by the NT (and acknowledge that human interpretations
of Scripture are fallible). Regarding miracles, I affirm Paul's teaching in 2CR 5:7 that we all walk or operate
by faith regarding spiritual/ultimate truth, so we should not seek to prove our faith by praying for miracles as
we await release from mortal bodies and the laws of physics. Regarding hell, I point Believers to the
NT doctrine of "destruction" (MT 10:28, RM 9:22, 2PT 3:7), which indicates that souls will cease to exist once
justice has been accomplished.
to doctrinal disputes and preferences or traditions regarding worship rituals, several other factors often interfere
with fellowship, including busy schedules, unpleasant experiences (such as a minister committing adultery) and spiritual
immaturity (lack of love or desire to learn God's Word). Paul instructed Believers (in HB 10:24-25)
not to give up meeting together because of such reasons, but rather to encourage each other and “consider how we may
spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” God's purpose is achieved as Believers learn
His Word (MT 4:4), which pastors should use “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”
(2TM 3:16), thereby preparing “God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built
up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole
measure of the fullness of Christ.” (EPH 4:12-13) As Jesus said, in MT 4:4, "we cannot live by physical
bread alone, but need every word that God inspires".
there are three main reasons Believers need to participate in a local congregation: for
encouragement or friendships, for spiritual or moral growth and for cooperating in the Lord’s work
of ministry. A local church should function as an extended family and a support group, in which people
love their neighbors as themselves (MT 22:39) or reflect divine love to their spiritual siblings (1JN 4:7-8&19) and even
to the enemies of God (MT 5:44). A person should love him/herself as God does. Love
may be manifested in a variety of ways, and spiritual growth may be encouraged by a myriad of methods including therapy.
When it occurs consistently, participation/fellowship with a local congregation is a joy rather than either an onerous
duty or a mere habit. (Note that moral maturity or goodness is the product of participation rather
than the requirement before joining.)
"Rebuking, reproving or correcting" is the negative side of
encouragement/ exhortation. Like wrath, reproof is a way to manifest the love of God.
Jesus taught the proper procedure for reproving fellow believers in Matthew 18:15-17 (TOJ #100).
Step #1 is to communicate; speaking the truth in love (EPH 4:15) or tactfully. Step #2
is to enlist the help of a mediator, an objective third party. Step #3 is to seek help from appropriate
persons in the ekklesia, minimizing opportunity for gossip. Step #4 is to disfellowship
or excommunicate (consider to be a pagan) someone whose habitual unloving actions speak louder than his/her words claiming
to be a Christian (MT 7:21, JN 13:35). The hope is that ostracism will prompt a believer to repent (2CR
2:5-11); the fear is that if the person's sins are ignored, others will be corrupted or injured. Probably,
if steps 1-3 are followed, the unrepentant person will initiate the fourth step (2CR 6:14).
Some people confuse the doctrines of love and forgiveness. While
love should be unconditional (MT 5:44) like God's love for sinners or His enemies (RM 5:6-10), forgiveness is
conditional upon repentance (JR 15:19, EZK 18:32, LK 13:3, 17:3, 24:47, ACTS 3:19, 20:21, 2CR 7:10, 1JN 1:9).
Forgiveness without repentance amounts to abetting sin/crime, and thus is not loving. Instead of
forgiving a sin, we should reprove the sinner, which should prompt genuine Believers to have a "guilt trip" and
repent (1JN 1:9), so they can then be forgiven. Paul taught and applied the doctrine of reproof
in 1Corinthians 5, where he recommended/ commanded excommunication or shunning (in v.13). After the sinner
presumably repented, Paul then instructed the Corinthians to forgive the sinner and to reaffirm their love for him (in 2CR
2:5-11). Reproof and excommunication
are difficult to practice tactfully and fairly, and so should be done prayerfully and carefully (and probably on an individual
basis). Although a person who welcomes reproof is rare, spiritual growth will be stunted until one realizes
that constructive criticism is good. It is like a warning light in a car that comes on when there
is a problem. We need to have the attitude, “thanks, I needed that!” We
should want to be lovingly reproved as a way of learning how we can become new and improved versions of ourselves.
(I say "ourselves", because Jesus is human per HB 2:17 and 4:15, and humans are good before they commit their
first sin per GN 1:31, so humanness should not be identified or necessarily and eternally equated with sinfulness.)
NT does not specify how the body of Christ or a local church should be organized in order to accomplish God’s
will, but we glean from James 2:1-4 that social status or worldly rank and power should be “checked at the door”.
Paul speaks of two types of church leaders or elders: bishops or overseers and deacons (PHP
1:1, TIT 1:5). The qualifications for both types (listed in 1TM 3 and TIT 1) are related to spiritual maturity.
The NT does not provide clear job descriptions, but the main role of bishops/pastors was preaching the kerygma
and teaching the didache (1TM 3:2 & 5:17, TIT1:9), and the primary job of deacons appears to have been the more
practical and financial aspects of ministry (ACTS 6:1-4). Although “leaders” should be respectable
and their views respected, Christ showed that mutual submission (EPH 5:21) or consensus among saints rather than dictatorship
by sinners, including church leaders, is God’s preferred type of fellowship and government (1CR 4:18-21) or
A controversial issue concerns the employment of women as ekklesia
leaders, because Paul wrote that "women should remain silent in the churches" (1CR 14:34).
Was this a cultural concession—akin to his instructions about refraining from eating certain foods in order not
to offend ignorant people (1CR 8:4-13)—that could be amended as the cultural mores matured due to the inculcation of
NT teaching? Or, is this an eternal moral principle? I believe the former is clearly
the case. Paul taught not only that women should "be subject to their husbands" (TIT 2:5)
but also that slaves should "be subject to their masters" (TIT 2:9), because he did not want the Gospel to be
perceived as political revolution (1CR 3:21). However, his teaching that "there is neither Jew
nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (GL 3:28) laid the axe that was surely
intended by God to fell the tree of slavery/inequality—racial, sexual and all types—in society. I believe it is significant that Eve was not created out of Adam's
head to dominate him nor out of his foot to serve him but out of his side to be his equal partner. Those
who waste time and energy worrying about who will be the leader of a family or local church should pay more attention to
the teaching of Jesus regarding greatness (in MT 20:25-28) that He exemplified by washing His disciples' feet (JN
13:3-17). When we get to heaven I seriously doubt Jesus will be spending very much time on a throne receiving
accolades. It is more likely He will be busy endeavoring to make sure that our stay is a pleasant one!
optimal size for a congregation would seem to be one that is large enough to provide ministries for less fortunate
people (JM 1:27), but small enough for fellowship as one spiritual family. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages
for ekklesia of any size, and churches—like individuals—are continually changing or in flux, so perhaps
variety rather than conformity is closer to the ideal. However, the Lord’s desire for unity (JN 17:20-23,
EPH 4:3) and equality (2CR 8:13-15) would indicate that neighboring ekklesia ought to cooperate rather than compete,
so there will not be many struggling or weak churches and only a few overflowing rich churches. Some pastors are more charismatic or dynamic than others, but it seems
a tribute to their maturity and humility when they lead their congregations to begin new churches and help weaker ones to
prosper or be more effective in ministry for the Lord. Of course, even though we want to witness to the
world so that others will join our fellowship (1JN 1:3), we must keep in mind that popularity does not necessarily indicate
spirituality. After all, the throngs who followed Jesus for awhile (MK 9:14, 10:1) eventually cooled
in their ardor so that only a few were faithful when He was crucified (MK 15:11-15). And just as Jesus
was deserted and crucified (MT 27:21-23), so Paul was deserted and imprisoned (2TM 1:13-2:15). My conclusion
after considering all of these factors is that because saints are sinners, churches are imperfect, so Christians are free
to fellowship wherever they believe God leads them as they keep in mind biblical parameters as the goal toward which to
strive (PHP 3:14).
I suppose the NT does not give much specific information regarding many secondary
matters (including baptism and communion) in order to avoid encroaching upon our freedom in Christ to decide the
most loving way to behave in the society in which we live. Acts 2:42-47 merely states that the activities
of the first church in Jerusalem included: learning the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking
of bread, sharing possessions, meeting daily, eating, praising God and prayer. The
"apostles' teaching" refers to learning God's Word ( LGW), which is our spiritual food.
"Fellowship" manifests the love and joy of God/Christ corporately, comparable to attending
a concert or sports activity in a secular context. "The breaking of bread"
refers to the Lord's Supper/Communion, as in 1CR 10:16, which should be an occasion for unity
based on remembrance of Christ's sacrifice rather than a symbol of denominationalism because of disagreement
about definitions. Paul rebuked the carnal Corinthians for their divisive spirit, which disqualified them from
partaking in good conscience of this memorial to the death of Christ on the cross as the atonement for sins (1CR 11:17-29).
Regarding "sharing possessions", please see the section on Economic Assistance in Lesson 15
for a presentation of the NT teachings on this subject. "Meeting daily" may not be feasible, but it
indicates that every day should be dedicated to LGW and doing God's will, not only Sunday or the Sabbath. "Eating"
is a form of fellowship done primarily as a family, but also occasionally in meals with the broader family
of God, and eventually at the heavenly banquet (MT 22:2, LK 22:16-18&30). "Praising God" and "prayer"
are activities that may be done corporately and publicly as well as individually and privately. (See the section on
prayer in Lesson 5.)
While realizing that numerical
growth does not necessarily correlate with spiritual growth, each congregation of Christians should hold the
ideal expressed by Paul (in 1CR 9:22) and attempt to “become all things to all men”, which means to invite
and try to attract all types of people in their community to join the fellowship (1JN 1:3-4). If some people
like emotional worship services full of wind and quakes and fire, while others prefer to experience God as a gentle whisper
(1KG 19:11-13), then take turns, draw straws, cast lots (PR 18:18, ACTS 1:26) or somehow resolve the issue in a way that glorifies
Christ and His Church. Paul used a lot of ink writing letters to the church in Corinth in order to teach
them that "the most excellent way" of functioning as a church or the body if Christ is characterized by love
and harmony rather than by emotionalism and coerced unity. Jesus prayed (in JN 17:20-23) that the witness
of believers would not be weakened by disunity. May each of us be part of God’s answer to this prayer
by becoming morally mature individually, and then by working together to promote harmony and unity among the variety
An ecumenical spirit manifests the Holy Spirit. Harmony based on the kerygma
(EPH 4:2-6) is more important than purity based on the didache (1CR 3:3-5). How God must grieve
(EPH 4:30) when people quarrel and churches divide! For this reason it would seem that all truthseekers
in a locality who affirm the kerygma should meet regularly (at least occasionally) for fellowship. They
could take turns speaking and/or leading a discussion on an issue from their perspective with the goal expressed in the Foreword:
acquiring a better understanding of ultimate reality or “the full riches of complete understanding.” (CL
2:2) Following the "inter-faith" (didachaicly speaking) meeting, participants could
disperse if desired according to the various sectarian beliefs that are represented (Messianic: Judaism, Islam,
Mormonism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. to include messianic humanism, if that is possible). Hopefully,
the desire of all participants who agree on the essential Gospel of Christ would be to achieve eventual agreement on secondary
issues as they apply the logic of love, utilizing a
Pauline hermeneutic (cf. Lesson 11).
God wants everyone to tolerate differences as they peacefully communicate and try to persuade others to adopt their
understanding of reality, so that Earthlings will become more compatible as they cohabit this planet. Those
who murder either people or truth will not enter heaven (JN 8:44, RV 21:8). I hope my credo/logic
has assisted your journey along the pilgrim path or maze we trod from birth toward enlightenment. I
believe truth is multifaceted, like a diamond, and interconnected, like those interlocking three-dimensional puzzles that
fall apart if one piece is removed. Because I view Jesus of Nazareth as the key piece of life’s
puzzle, I have summarized His teachings in Lessons 7-9.